US Army Combatives

5-5 Defense Against a Knife


When an unarmed soldier is faced with an enemy armed with a knife, he must be mentally prepared to be cut. The likelihood of being cut severely is less if the fighter is well trained in knife defense and if the principles of weapon defense are followed. A slash wound is not usually lethal or shock inducing; however, a stab wound risks injury to vital organs, arteries, and veins and may also cause instant shock or unconsciousness.

a. Types of Knife Attacks. The first line of defense against an opponent armed with a knife is to avoid close contact. The different types of knife attacks follow:

  • (1) Thrust. The thrust is the most common and most dangerous type of knife attack. It is a strike directed straight into the target by jabbing or lunging.
  • (2) Slash. The slash is a sweeping surface cut or circular slash. The wound is usually a long cut, varying from a slight surface cut to a deep gash.
  • (3) Flick. This attack is delivered by flicking the wrist and knife to extended limbs, inflicting numerous cuts. The flick is very distractive to the defender since he is bleeding from several cuts if the attacker is successful.
  • (4) Tear. The tear is a cut made by dragging the tip of the blade across the body to create a ripping-type cut.
  • (5) Hack. The hack is delivered by using the knife to block or chop with.
  • (6) Butt. The butt is a strike with the knife handle.

b. Knife Defense Drills. Knife defense drills are used to familiarize soldiers with defense movement techniques for various angles of attack. For training, the soldiers should be paired off; one partner is named as the attacker and one is the defender. It is important that the attacker make his attack realistic in terms of distance and angling during training. His strikes must be accurate in hitting the defender at the intended target if the defender does not defend himself or move off the line of attack. For safety, the attacks are delivered first at one-quarter and one-half speed, and then at three-quarter speed as the defender becomes more skilled. Variations can be added by changing grips, stances, and attacks.

(1) No. 1 angle of defense—heck and lift. The attacker delivers a slash along the No. 1 angle of attack. The defender meets and checks the movement with his left forearm bone, striking the inside forearm of the attacker (Figure 5-13, Step 1).

The defender’s right hand immediately follows behind the strike to lift, redirect, and take control of the attacker’s knife arm (Figure 5-13, Step 2) .

The defender brings the attacking arm around to his right side where he can use an arm bar, wrist lock, and so forth, to disarm the attacker (Figure 5-13, Step 3).

He will have better control by keeping the knife hand as close to his body as possible (Figure 5-13, Step 4).

(2) No. 2 angle of defense—check and ride. The attacker slashes with a No. 2 angle of attack. The defender meets the attacking arm with a strike from both forearms against the outside forearm, his bone against the attacker’s muscle tissue (Figure 5-14, Step 1 ).

The strike checks the forward momentum of the attacking arm. The defender’s right hand is then used to ride the attacking arm clear of his body (Figure 5-14, Step 2).

He redirects the attacker’s energy with strength starting from the right elbow (Figure 5-14, Step 3).


(3) No. 3 angle of defense—check and lift. The attacker delivers a horizontal slash to the defender’s ribs, kidneys, or hip on the left side (Figure 5-15, Step 1). The defender meets and checks the attacking arm on the left side of his body with a downward circular motion across the front of his own body.

At the same time, he moves his body off the line of attack. He should meet the attacker’s forearm with a strike forceful enough to check its momentum (Figure 5-15, Step 2 ). The defender then rides the energy of the attacking arm by wiping downward along the outside of his own left forearm with his right hand.

He then redirects the knife hand around to his right side where he can control or disarm the weapon (Figure 5-15, Step 3) .

(4) No. 4 angle of defense—check. The attacker slashes the defender with a backhand slashing motion to the right side at the ribs, kidneys, or hips. The defender moves his right arm in a downward circular motion and strikes the attacking arm on the outside of the body (Figure 5-16, Step 1).

At the same time, he moves off the line of attack (Figure 5-16, Step 2) . The strike must be forceful enough to check the attack.

The left arm is held in a higher guard position to protect from a redirected attack or to assist in checking (Figure 5-16, Step 3 ).

The defender moves his body to a position where he can choose a proper disarming maneuver (Figure 5-16, Step 4).

(5) Low No. 5 angle of defense–parry. A lunging thrust to the stomach is made by the attacker along the No. 5 angle of attack (Figure 5-17, Step 1).

The defender moves his body off the line of attack and deflects the attacking arm by parrying with his left hand (Figure 5-17, Step 2 ). He deflects the attacking hand toward his right side by redirecting it with his right hand.

As he does this, the defender can strike downward with the left forearm or the wrist onto the forearm or wrist of the attacker (Figure 5-17, Step 3).

The defender ends up in a position to lock the elbow of the attacking arm across his body if he steps off the line of attack properly (Figure 5-17, Step 4 ).

(6) High No. 5 angle of defense. The attacker lunges with a thrust to the face, throat, or solar plexus (Figure 5-18, Step 1).

The defender moves his body off the line of attack while parrying with either hand. He redirects the attacking arm so that the knife clears his body (Figure 5-18, Step 2).

He maintains control of the weapon hand or arm and gouges the eyes of the attacker, driving him backward and off balance (Figure 5-18, Step 3). If the attacker is much taller than the defender, it may be a more natural movement for the defender to raise his left hand to strike and deflect the attacking arm. He can then gouge his thumb or fingers into the jugular notch of the attacker and force him to the ground.

Still another possibility for a high No. 5 angle of attack is for the defender to move his body off the line of attack while parrying. He can then turn his body, rotate his shoulder under the elbow joint of the attacker, and lock it out (Figure 5-18, Step 4).

(7) No. 6 angle of defense. The attacker strikes straight downward onto the defender with a stab (Figure 5-19, Step 1).

The defender reacts by moving his body out of the weapon’s path and by parrying or checking and redirecting the attacking arm, as the movement in the high No. 5 angle of defense (Figure 5-19, Step 2). The reactions may vary as to what is natural for the defender.

The defender then takes control of the weapon and disarms the attacker (Figure 5-19, Step 3).


c. Follow-Up Techniques. Once the instructor believes the soldiers are skilled in these basic reactions to attack, follow-up techniques may be introduced and practiced. These drills make up the defense possibilities against the various angles of attack. They also enable the soldier to apply the principles of defense against weapons and allow him to feel the movements. Through repetition, the reactions become natural, and the soldier instinctively reacts to a knife attack with the proper defense. It is important not to associate specific movements or techniques with certain types of attack. The knife fighter must rely on his knowledge of principles and his training experience in reacting to a knife attack. No two attacks or reactions will be the same; thus, memorizing techniques will not ensure a soldier’s survival.

  • (1) Defend and clear. When the defender has performed a defensive maneuver and avoided an attack, he can push the attacker away and move out of the attacker’s reach.
  • (2) Defend and stun. After the defender performs his first defensive maneuver to a safer position, he can deliver a stunning blow as an immediate counterattack. Strikes to motor nerve points or attacker’s limbs, low kicks, and elbow strikes are especially effective stunning techniques.
  • (3) Defend and disarm. The defender also follows up his first defensive maneuver by maintaining control of the attacker’s weapon arm, executing a stunning technique, and disarming the attacker. The stun distracts the attacker and also gives the defender some time to gain possession of the weapon and to execute his disarming technique.

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